I’ve always found it hard to convey how wonderful the world of Pokémon is to those who have never played the games, watched the show, or collected the cards. There was just something so magical about imagining a world in which adults through away any kind of moral sense of responsibility and let 10-year-olds go out into the wild to capture wild animals and force them to fight one another.
I can remember battling friends via Gamelink Cable, then spending hours leafing through one another’s binders of Pokémon cards all while negotiating trade deals with the same fervor as the most foul-mouthed, cocaine-brained broker in all of Wall Street. When our school banned Game Boys and Pokémon cards, we would have pretend battles on the field of our school play yard. When night came I would lull myself to sleep imagining what it would be like to fly around town on the back of a Pidgey (my Charizard couldn’t learn Fly, after all).
Now with the advent of Pokémon Go those same flights of fancy are starting to return once more. The game’s augmented reality is cheesy a good 40% of the time, the game can be buggier than Viridian Forest, and if I run into one more screen telling me they are having server issues I swear I’m going to crack. Yet despite all the launch issues (issues that could destroy a game featuring any other IP) I find myself smiling more than anything while playing the game.
The concept is simple. You are tasked with collecting as many Pokémon as possible while training them and raising them to fight in Gym leader battles. As you catch more creatures your experience grows which unlocks even more creatures to catch. All of this will be familiar to die-hard fans of the series.
What sets this game apart is the fact that Gyms and other points of interest in the game are tied to actual real-life landmarks. Meaning if you want to challenge a Gym Leader you actually have to physically travel to an actual real-world location. As you walk, different Pokémon will appear, giving you the chance to capture them. What adds a layer of coolness (most of the time) is the fact that interaction with Pokémon occurs using augmented reality. Which means you can run into a Graveler on your work desk, as I did yesterday.
I don’t know how to communicate how cool this mechanic is other than to relate one of my experiences while playing the game. When I got home from the office yesterday I noticed there was a Gym at a church just a couple blocks away. Eager to put my caught Pokémon to the test, I embarked on my 10 minute journey to the gym. In that ten minutes I ran into an Eveee, a Drowzee, and a Rattata. As I progressed to my destination, catching ‘em all I couldn’t help but grin. It truly felt like I was 10 again, pretending to set out from Pallet Town on a quest to become a Pokémon master. Anything that can get my jaded, cynical, and all around more boring adult mind imagining things like it did when I was a kid is pretty darn special in my book.
The game has issues, and I definitely need to spend more time with it before coming up with a final verdict, but for now let’s just say it’s special. Anyone wanting to recapture a bit of their youth, regardless of whether or not they grew up with Pokémon, would be well served in downloading this game.